While in Rwanda for two weeks to escape the elections, visit artisans, and visit friends, I had plans to take a little trip. You see, my friend Fidele is a tour guide and owns D’Tours Africa. Not only is he perhaps the funniest person I have met on the entire continent of Africa and sure to keep you entertained on a safari, but he happens to be really good at his job! I met Fidele three years ago when he was working for another tour company in Rwanda. He had lost his passport so since he was unable to work until he received his replacement, we hung out in Gisenyi during the few days I was there between trips. Fidele left that company shortly after we met, as the guy he was working for was cheating some clients (I stayed with the owner and his family three years ago and now he is the journalist and website developer for the M23 rebel group in Congo- oh life is interesting sometimes).
I went to visit Fidele in Gisenyi shortly after I arrived in Rwanda this time, where we hatched a plan to take a trip that would be partially for fun and partially to visit artisans. Originally, I wanted to go to Burundi. I thought I would take advantage of having a guide to take me to a country I’d never been. But with fuel costs so high and realizing that there isn’t all that much to do in Burundi, we settled for another place I really wanted to go: Nyungwe National Park. Our plan was 3 days/2 nights to go to Nyungwe in the southern part of Rwanda and then visit two basket weaving co-ops on our return to the shores of Lake Kivu.
Nyungwe National Park is a beautiful rainforest in Rwanda. It has chimpanzees, colobus monkeys, waterfalls, birds, and many other species. It is unfortunate that trucks coming from Kenya and Tanzania have to pass through this park to deliver goods in Congo. The accident rate and breakdowns among truckers are high (we saw loads!) and I think it is bad for the park. But it is what it is. After painstakingly choosing where we should go, there was another decision to be made. Do we hike one of the many trails in Nyungwe and go see waterfalls, take a walk across the canopy bridge, or trek chimpanzees or colobus monkeys? Driving through the park is free but all hiking and trekking activities come with a price tag, and it’s not that cheap (of course much cheaper than gorilla tracking in Rwanda!).
We made it from Gisenyi to Nyungwe in record time (with a stop in Gitarama for snacks at which point a guard tried to make Fidele pay for parking but then he thought our car was from the Congolese Embassy so he immediately backed down). The village where we would have stayed was tiny and we had the entire afternoon to kill. So instead, we decided to drive an extra hour to Cyangugu, the city at the southern point of Lake Kivu. We took a drive to the Congolese border, relaxed, played pool, and ate delicious grilled pork and potatoes for dinner. I also had my first taste of banana beer. Wouldn’t recommend it but was worth a try.
We left early the next morning to make our way back to Nyungwe. Unfortunately, the hotel owner also owns big trucks, and they had blocked Fidele in. After trying for a good 30 minutes to squeeze between them (would have been impossible but the hotel workers insisted), he took the keys to one of the lorries and moved it himself. They are extremely difficult to drive, he had a tough time getting it into gear, and we laughed at the sudden jerks as he lurched and stopped. But he solved our problem!
Once back at Nyungwe, I decided to track the colobus monkeys. The Angolan colobi in Nyungwe are the largest grouping of primates on the entire continent! There are at least 400 of them in one group. We went to see a smaller group near a tea plantation. I chose to trek colobi over chimps because they are more docile. Chimps move quickly so you might only see them for a second. We were four in our group plus the guide and tracker. After driving to the start of our walk, we found them within 15 minutes, sitting in the trees. My most favorite part of the whole experience was seeing the baby colobus monkeys. They are born entirely white and don’t get their coloring until around three months. Enjoy the photos of these cute creatures:
Nyungwe is a really beautiful place if you happen to find yourself in Rwanda. I hope to go back again as I’ve heard the hiking is really great. And, if you find yourself in Rwanda and need a guide, driver, or any other assistance, or are traveling to Uganda, DR Congo, or Burundi, please contact Dusingisimana Fidele (you can call him Fidele!) at dusifidele[at]yahoo[dot]fr. Aside from a great vacation, I can personally guarantee lots of laughter along the way :)
Colobus Tracking Costs: $70 USD for visitors, $30 USD for East Africa residents.
Note: After the Rwandan genocide, most of the cities’ names were changed. I have used many of the former names because I ‘do as the locals do’.